Point of view? What about this stunning view! Banff, Canada. Photo by Kate Ota 2018
Remember last week how I ended by saying that my next post would be about trimming words? Well, despite deleting a chapter, I’ve managed to add 1000 words to my WIP. So, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m not qualified to write a word trimming post just yet.
It’s been a while since I added to my Easier Editing series, so I decided to write about one of the things my first round of beta readers said I did really well. Let’s talk about how to make different POVs in the same book feel like different people. They’ll all have your author voice naturally, so what you need to do is make them feel distinct from one another. The goal is that a reader should be able to put your book down, then come back and know who the POV character is without flipping back to the last chapter or scene break. (Need a refresher on POVs in general? I have a post for that!)
Here are the top things I do to accomplish unique POVs in a multi-POV book.
Once I build my characters and understand who they are, I decide what kinds of words they’ll use. A laboratory researcher might use precise and scientific language. Creative characters would use more colorful language. Someone really into trains might make analogies that always go back to trains. Also keep in mind what words your characters might not know. Think of Disney’s Ariel, who called forks dingle-hoppers because she’d understandably never heard the word fork. Perhaps you have an older character who wouldn't know teen slang, or a teenager who would be less likely to know name brands of alcohol.
Whatever is driving your character is bound to be on their mind. Think of a conversation between two characters. If told from one POV, the interaction may be boring pleasantries ending with a refusal to hang out. How rude! When told from the other POV, we might learn how this character is desperately avoiding anyone coming over and discovering the dead body in her basement. Something that urgent is going to color the narration significantly. Less urgent goals should still have an impact, too.
I tend to choose if my characters are overall optimistic or pessimistic, and then what mood they’re in for each scene. I end up with things like angry optimist, happy pessimist, irritated pessimist, etc. It’s much easier to write a specific voice knowing that combination of world view and mood.
It’s easier to have a very wild, quirky character voice if they don’t come up often. It’s harder to sustain and use that voice to convey complex plot points. You don’t want to get so niche that this character describes something and your reader is left with no understanding of what just happened. Let’s use an extreme example. Think about Shakespeare being read in modern classrooms. You read that aloud as a class and then the teacher had to explain what that entire scene meant. Yes, it’s in English, but man oh man is that Elizabethan voice difficult to decipher for modern audiences. If one of your POVs was written so uniquely, they’d stand out, but not in the way you want. However, if you toss in a relevant sonnet every now and then, you won’t lose your reader because they’ll trust you to lead them back to the more digestible story soon.
That’s my basic strategy for differentiating POVs in my multi-POV WIP. Do you have different strategies you use? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Word Count Anxiety
If you get too anxious about your word count, take a moment to go outside and enjoy the weather. Unless you're in the current heat wave. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
I follow a lot of agents on Twitter and whenever they do an Ask Agent, they usually get a question concerning word count. Often, it’s very specific to what that author is writing and they are worried about over or under writing. “Will it hurt my chances of getting an agent?” they always ask. Sometimes they say “George R.R. Martin got away with it, why can’t I?”
Let’s look at typical word counts, why there are typical word counts, and what an agent will do if you miss the target.
What’s The Right Word Count?
I took the lowest and highest word counts offered from five different sources to find out the approximate window for the most common genres and age groups.
Sources: manuscriptagency.com, litrejections.com, self-publishingschool.com, bookendsliterary.com, writersdigest.com
Genre Word Count Window
Short Story: 500-8,000
Adult Commercial/Literary: 60,000-110,000
Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy: 50,000-150,000
Adult Romance: 40,000-100,000
Adult Historical Fiction: 80,000-120,000
Adult Crime/Thriller/Mystery/Horror: 40,000-100,000
Young Adult (all genres): 50,000-100,000
Middle Grade (all genres): 20,000-55,000
Picture Book (all genres): 0-1,000
Some of those windows are very wide because these sources didn’t necessarily all agree about how low or high you can go. Writer’s Digest had the most restrictive guidelines, while the self-publishing school had the broadest.
Why Do Word Counts Matter?
In this debate, people will always mention the exceptions. Harry Potter, Song of Ice and Fire, Gone With the Wind, and Lord of the Rings consistently went higher than recommended word counts for their genre or age group. You’ll also notice they made a lot of money or were written a long time ago. While you should believe your work can also succeed, you cannot bet on others believing that too before they read it. And getting someone to read a 90,000 word novel is way easier than getting them to read a 300,000 word one.
Readers expect certain things from books. They want a happily ever after in a romance, they want magic in fantasy, and so on. The same is true of word count, even if readers can’t name a specific number. They’ll see a book on a shelf or a page count online and make the decision right there. Their negative reactions could range from “That’s too short for how much the book costs” to “That’s so big I’ll never finish it.” You want to hit the sweet spot in between.
What Do Agents Do If You Miss the Target?
To have the broadest reach with your book, people have to be willing to pick it up—and that starts with agents if you’re going traditional. Agents don’t have an infinite amount of time to read, and the further outside your expected word count, the less likely they’ll read your book. If you are below the expected count, you may be in trouble too. Either way, the agent has to think about how much work your project needs before it can be sent to publishers. All that work is before anyone gets paid, and agents need to eat too.
Remember when including your word count in your query that you round to the nearest thousand. Even if that means rounding up and thinking you’ll get in trouble. There’s wiggle room in word counts. If you’re 1,000 words outside the ideal, they’ll probably be okay with that. That many words are easy to add or delete. Once you get beyond 5,000 outside the window, you may be in trickier waters. Agency websites may specify this more, so be sure to peruse the whole website before querying.
Right now, my WIP is dancing at the upper edge of the Adult SFF category count, so I’m looking at ways to trim words. I may need to kill a few darlings to feel more confident about my chances of landing an agent. Perhaps next week I’ll go over some word-saving methods.
Have you ever written wildly outside of an expected word count? What’s your favorite book that breaks word count expectations? Or maybe, what’s a book that broke word count expectations to the point you refused to read it? Let’s discuss in the comments!
What to Do with Feedback
This might be how your soul feels after a rough critique. Pick up those pieces and start editing. Photo by Kate Ota 2019
I’m in the editing phase of my book, which is always the longest, and I’m soliciting feedback from many sources. And then getting all that feedback. I’ve written about critique groups and how to critique, but never explained my methods for what happens next. It can be overwhelming to receive a lot of feedback at once and some people will set that aside and not use it out of a sense of dread. Here’s my method for tackling feedback.
Step 1: Take Notes During the Critique
If you are doing a live critique, take notes as people talk. Even if they will send you an annotated document later, they might say something spontaneous that you don’t want to lose.
You can decide if you want to write down who says what, if that matters to you. For example, if someone who shares the character’s identity says “I’d change X about how you portray Y about this character” I make sure to write down who said that so I give their opinion extra weight.
If people repeat the same comment, I add a little x2 or x3 to a comment to save time. When I see this, I know this is something I need to change.
If people disagree, I write who was on what side (ex. John said he likes this character but Betty hated him). This allows me to later say, aha so Betty hated this character and this other element, I wonder if fixing that element then changes her opinion on the character. Most of the time though, it may just come down to people's opinions and knowing who said what won't really matter.
I also take notes if someone says something that sparks an idea in my mind. I’ll mark this with “note from me” so I don’t later think someone else was being rather forward with ideas.
Step 2: Consolidate Your Notes
I take all the notes I receive and transfer them into one document. I use track changes and comments in Word and will edit the document with ALL of the edits sent to me, regardless of if I agree or not. This is not the time to judge comments, only copy them. I add my notes from the live critique to the relevant scenes/chapters so I don’t have to scroll to the bottom of the document. In the end, I usually have a very marked up document, but at least it’s only one.
Step 3: Prepare Your Mindset
One thing people have a hard time with when receiving feedback is how it feels emotionally. It can feel like people hate your writing or you as a person or both. You need to go into your edits with the following mindset: everything everyone has written is only to help you. This needs to be your mantra. I realize there are bad actors out there who will send hate through the internet, and that's a risk you take. However, especially if you take my advice about trying live (or virtually-live) groups, you'll find that other writers really want to help. Everything everyone has written is only to help you. They are trying to help you make this book better and every edit choose to take is doing that. One more time before you dive into edits: everything everyone has written is only to help you.
Step 4: Make the Edits
While I receive my edits in Word, I write in Scrivener. This is because I love Scrivener for novels in general, but it has the added bonus of forcing me to think about every single edit rather than just hitting the accept button.
I work linearly through the document, and will save big edits (such as over used words throughout or all of the dialogue needing tweaking, etc.) for the end. The exception is if I’m re-writing a significant portion of the scene, that is something I’ll do first, then edit anything that carried over.
Here’s the sticky point for some people: how do you decide which edits to take? To me, it depends on the category of edits:
The nice thing about getting critiques is that no one watches you make the edits. Don’t feel guilty for saying no to a comment, and don’t feel like you’re a bad writer for taking one. The key to editing is humility: we're all human, we all make mistakes, and we can fix those mistakes.
Step 5: Final Polish
Once I’ve finished transferring in my edits, I send it through an AI grammar checker. Mine is ProWritingAid, but I’ve heard good things about lots of other programs. Which program I use is not a hill I’d die on. This is just a final polish and helps me catch some smaller, subtler errors. Usually these are errors generated by the process of editing itself. It also helps me make sure I’m not too pronoun heavy, that my sentences vary in length, etc. I recommend these programs as a final polish, but not an initial one. You need humans for that!
There are a ton of editing resources out there. Checklists for individual chapters, beat sheets for entire plot lines, etc. If you find yourself returning to the same problems, keep some of those resources nearby. I like to keep The Emotion Thesaurus handy because I consistently don’t show enough emotion with my characters.
That’s my feedback wrangling process. Did it help you? Do you have your own method you’d like to share? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Benefits of Part-Time Hoarding
Sorry for the May hiatus. The month really took over and I got lost in the fray. Back to my regularly scheduled blog posts!
I keep my house relatively clean, but I always have a few nooks and crannies where I store whole bunch of stuff. Junk drawers and closet shelves and plastic drawer sets that look organized when shut, but God forbid you open them. I cleaned one such space this weekend: a set of plastic drawers I’ve had since college.
This involved two drawers of college and grad school file-folders and notebooks and a hodge-podge of random items. (Including, thankfully, a second key to my car that I’ve been looking for for about a year.) One such random item was a spiral bound “text book” from the only creative writing class I took in college. I still remember being pissed I had to pay nearly twenty bucks for what my prof called a “packet.” It’s 213 pages (front and back printed) so in hindsight twenty bucks isn’t bad for college materials.
This tome is more than half short stories I had to analyze. Sorry to those stories, I probably didn’t analyze any of them properly. Theme was never my strong suit in school. Though now I might be able to get a better grip on it, since I’ve been reading a lot of writing craft books recently. Anyway, the second part of this packet is writing advice. I opened it expecting it to be some sort of “I’m a Writing God and here are my Rules!” Instead, the first section says there are rules, but you need to learn them before you break them; and when you break them it better be on purpose. Pleased, I decided to peruse the rest.
There are sections on plot, including how to come up with a plot or get out of being stuck, character, a lot on showing and telling (with great examples and details on when to tell instead), and even revision tips. This thing has a lot boiled into a small space. And yes, we also had to buy Burroway’s Writing Fiction, which I also kept. Based on how little I highlighted, I think we only read one chapter for class. I will definitely be revisiting this packet. I put it on my writing craft shelf, even though it’s spiral bound and battered from bouncing around in my old backpack. But hey, don’t just a book—or packet—by its card-stock cover.
Did you keep any materials from high school, college, or grad school that you’ve kept and used? Let’s discuss in the comments.